A second round of DNA tests has confirmed that the human skeletal remains discovered in a thicket near St Mathias Tsonzo High School in Mutasa in June belonged to Livingstone Sunhwa (19), whose whereabouts had been unknown since his mysterious disappearance from the school last year.
The forensic analysis had proved to be complicated, with the first DNA test inconclusive due to sample degradation as a result of decomposition, exposure to harsh environmental conditions and the passage of time.
Due to a progressed stage of decomposition, post-mortem tissue putrefaction decreased the DNA yields considerably, thereby making the tests more time and resource consuming.
Putrefaction refers to the destruction of soft tissues shortly after death and is due to the action of micro-organisms on the body.
Research shows that human decomposition begins just a few minutes after death via a process of self-digestion known as autolysis, with temperature, humidity, rain and the sun, among other factors, playing an important role in the process.
The investigators had initially collected bone samples for DNA testing as the soft tissues like skin, muscles and nervous tissues had decomposed.
Unfortunately this sample yielded inconclusive results.
They then collected teeth, believed to have a hard structure which protects DNA from degradation or rather slows down the process by enclosing it in hard and protective materials.
This then yielded conclusive results that were released to the family on Wednesday.
It is hoped that the identification of the remains will help bring closure to Livingstone’s family members and friends.
Although Manicaland provincial police spokesperson, Inspector Nobert Muzondo was not readily available to comment, Livingstone’s mother, Ms Selina Tadya, and Anglican Diocese of Manicaland spokesperson, Mr Ashel Mutungura confirmed the sad development.
The Anglican Church is the responsible authority at St Matthias Tsonzo High School, where Livingstone was enrolled prior to his disappearance.
Mrs Tadya’s blood samples were collected for the tests, alongside those of her daughter Pride.
She said the results were conclusive and identified the deceased as her missing son.
“The results are out and conclusive. I collected them on Wednesday at Parirenyatwa Group of Hospitals in Harare, and it is 99,99 percent that he is my biological son. However, the cause of death is not known due to the effects of human decomposition, environmental exposure and the passage of time.
“As we speak, I am going to Watsomba to inform my elders about the development and make the arrangements so that we can communicate with my late husband’s family to make burial arrangements.
“The pain I am going through is second to none. As much as I wanted to know the truth, it is very hard to face the reality. I was not prepared for this. It is unbelievable to me that Livingstone is no more.
“All along, I had hoped that I would find him alive and reunite with him. I feel like I did not do enough to protect him. It is eating me up day and night,” she said.
Ms Tadya further said she believed that her son was murdered and demanded justice.
“It was not a natural death because my son was beaten and tortured at the school. He was tortured to the extent of being unable to eat or talk after they took him from the police.
“From the information I gathered from teachers, Livingstone was traumatised and could not say anything or answer some questions, and I wonder why they took him to the hostel in that condition.
“Everyone who had a hand in the disappearance and death of my son must face the music.
“They cut his life short, yet he also wanted to grow up and prosper in life. They must account for their actions.
“However, I want to acknowledge the support I have received from the media and my fellow Zimbabweans who demanded justice for Livingstone. I could not have achieved this alone. Your support took us this far. My voice alone could not have been heard,” she said.
Livingstone, who was a Form 4 student at St Matthias High School, disappeared on December 6.
Prior to his disappearance, he had been arrested on theft charges. He was, however, allegedly released as he was due to sit for his English final exam paper.
Unfortunately he never showed up for the examination and went missing from that day.
On June 20, the Criminal Investigation Department (CID), which is now in charge of investigations, discovered Livingstone’s remains a stone’s throw away from the school.
This led to the suspension of St Matthias High School head, Mr Maxwell Sambona, to pave way for investigations. Mr Mutungura said the diocese was briefed about the DNA tests results and described it as a sad development.
“We have been advised that the results came out conclusive, which is a sad development. However, we hope this will bring closure to the family and his friends.
“We hope those in charge of investigations will investigate and ensure prosecution of all who may have been involved in this case. We are fully behind the process, the truth must come out and justice must be served,” said Mr Mutungura.
National police spokesperson Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi said more detailed information would be given today. Herald